California Democrats call for boosting financial aid to students
March 13, 2017
Democratic California lawmakers unveiled a plan Monday that would create the nation’s most generous college aid system, covering living expenses as well as tuition. [LA Times]
The new program would cost an estimated $1.6 billion a year when fully implemented. California’s Student Aid Commission already administers $2.1 billion in annual state financial aid, the highest amount in the nation.
But, Assembly Democrats say the state must tackle spiraling student debt and make college more affordable. Currently, the average annual cost of college is about $21,000 at Cal State and $33,000 at University of California campuses. Living expenses account for 60 percent of the total cost of UC attendance.
The new plan, which is being spearheaded by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would supplement the state’s existing aid programs with the aim of eradicating student loans for nearly 400,000 students in the Cal State and UC systems. It would also boost grants to community college students and create a tuition-free first year for those attending community college full time.
Lower-income students “are able to many times, through our great programs in California, get help to pay for tuition. But they’re still graduating with a tremendous amount of debt,” McCarty said. “The cost of living, the books, the transportation — that’s [what] we really need to tackle.”
If California were to adopt McCarty’s plan, students would still have access to existing financial aid, including federal Pell Grants, state programs like Cal Grants, and university grants. Students would also continue to have access to Middle Class Scholarships if they are not eliminated as Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing.
Parents making more than $60,000 would be expected to make a contribution, and students would also be expected to chip in by holding part-time jobs year-round. The new scholarships would cover the remainder of the annual cost of college.
Assembly Democrats are proposing phasing in the program over five years, with an initial cost of $320 million and another $100 million for community college provisions. Most of the financial aid money would come from the state’s general fund.
Supporters of the program say its cost will decrease as the state minimum wage increases and students earn more at their jobs.
In February, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office released a report estimating a $3.3 billion price tag for fully debt-free college. That report included covering living expenses for community college students, whereas the current proposal does not.
Last year, Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid pushed the idea of tuition-free college into the national spotlight. Also, a recent survey indicated college affordability is a big problem for nearly 60 percent of Californians.
However, it is unclear whether state Senate Democrats will back the plan their colleagues in the Assembly are pushing. Senate leader Kevin de Leon has proposed his own bill to boost aid to community colleges. Likewise, Brown has been reluctant to approve new spending in state budgets.